Chaplain Tortoise

turtleplanking
From an unknown artist, speaking my truth.

There is progress. Slow and steady. Chaplain Tortoise,  here, is almost ready to go back to work on Tuesday!

Almost 2 weeks out from surgery, I’m feeling encouraged. (I’ll spare you a picture of my knee, minus the sutures.) The swelling is going down and I’m able to do simple things like stand up and sit down without pain. I can navigate steps (going up is easier than going down) but still find it difficult to do things like pick up a bag of groceries from the floor, or squat. (I probably could squat, but someone would have to rescue me.)

Now, as my surgeon says, I have a “better” knee, but I do not have a “healthy” knee. It will take some babying and strict rehab to get closer to normal functioning. And, though I hate to say it, I will have to start going to the gym regularly. My whole body will benefit (and I know this), but I’m just not someone who enjoys working out. And most of my friends are readers and knitters, not joggers and weight-lifters.

One of the realities I am facing, though, is that to get back to my personal “best” it will take some work. So I decided to check out the local gyms and fitness clubs, just to get a jump start on where I will end up after PT.

It was… interesting.

There was one that smelled like every high school gymnasium you’ve ever been in, minus the pull-out bleachers and whistles. Yeah… no.

There was one that appeared to have delusions of grandeur, with hardwood floors and a “eucalyptus” steam room. (Why? I don’t know). And a “day spa” where I could get a bikini wax and a facial after I work out. (Um. No.)

There was one that had row after row after row of treadmills and row machines, and not much else. Also no one on the floor who could teach a newbie how to use these things. My comment to the salesperson: “Look. I got this knee injury from walking. On a flat surface. I need a little more than a smile and wave.”

There was one that had pushy sales staff and warned me that “the price will go up if you don’t sign today.” (My response? “Oh well. Your loss.”)

Then there was the guy who schmoozed so much, I thought we would be meeting up with our spouses for a drink this weekend. Dude. I’m just looking for a place to work out. Your son is not marrying my daughter! (Creepy.)

And… my last stop, when I was almost ready to say fuggedaboudit, my search yielded a place with fairly normal people. People who get that I am not interested in being anything other than a better version of my best self. I think I’ll probably end up there. We’ll see.

I’m operating at a lower speed than normal, which has been frustrating. However, listening to my body has been key. (My knee definitely YELLS at me when I try to do too much!) Stepping back into mindfulness practices, I remembered that knowing and caring for myself is the best way to walk into a healthier me.

So for now, I’m Chaplain Tortoise… taking those baby steps towards healing. Slow and steady wins the race.

2018: The year of “Balance”

Earlier this year on Epiphany Sunday, I drew my personal “star word” for 2018. I first heard of this practice from another RevGal, Rev. Marci Glass. (You can read more about it here.) For the last several years, I’ve chosen a word and used it for reflection. Just as God guided the Magi to the Christ Child, so God guides me.

This year, my word was “Balance.” My initial reaction was “very funny, God.” My second thought was, “ooohhhh, OUCH.”

This year has completely been about Balance. Balance about my health. About my family’s changing needs. About my adjustment to the day-to-day professional challenges of being a hospice chaplain. About wanting to be an advocate in the public arena. About leadership in a national non-profit. About choosing when to write and what to write about.

Balance.

You can call it “chance” that I ended up with that word. But I suspect that the Spirit knew what I needed to see hanging over my desk, day in, day out.  Do I have it all figured out? Am I now a truly “balanced” person? Well, no. But I can honestly say that I know now when I am out-of-balance and have to stop and get my equilibrium.

Recently, I made a decision to step back from a leadership role. There were many reasons, but the bottom line was that I recognized how out-of-balance the stress from that role was for me personally and spiritually. I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge! (If you know me at all, you’ve figured that out.) The health challenges of my body got my attention. The emotional stress reinforced it was the right decision. Self-care is sometimes very, very hard and I am too stubborn for my own good. (I write more about this here…)

I returned to the words of a song by Carolyn McDade which reminded me why I was out of balance. I was taking on more than God had called me to do.

“No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.”

It’s not selfish to make choices for your own growth and self-care. It’s not irresponsible to say “no, I’m sorry, I can’t” to a request for a very good and meaningful cause. It’s not impossible to admit you can’t handle the toxic situation you stumbled into rather blindly. And most of all, it’s not a bad thing to fulfill your obligations – until you simply can’t do it any more.

And, beloved, when you find that “sweet spot” — that place of Balance — it is very, very good. Just the way we are Created to be.

 

Self-care (A review for the stubborn one)

I am learning how badly I am following my own teaching on “self care.” I wrote recently about a bad fall that I had on our patio, which left me bruised and with a swollen and painful knee. While I did follow basic first aid practices (ice, rest, elevation, anti-inflammatories), I did not take any time off from work. I soldiered through the week. I limped around. I dealt with joint pain and referred pain from limping.

I am stubborn.

In addition, there have been some intense situations (unrelated to family and friends) which have also taken a lot of my emotional and spiritual energy. It’s not just the news and following a hurricane, it’s the little nasty micro-aggressions. The insulting emails. All of my usual self care strategies weren’t working and I couldn’t turn “off” my reactions. My coping mechanism of choice was to veg on the couch. Not very productive nor self-restoring.

Fortunately, this week I had a long chat with my spiritual director who reminded me of the song by Rabbi Sofer and Rev. Carolyn McDade: (words found here)

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

At first, it didn’t set well with me. Isn’t that contrary to the expectations of a pastor to serve others? What about Philippians 2 where we are reminded to  “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”? What about Luke 9 where we are exhorted by Jesus, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me”?

Balance. It’s about balance!

YES.  I am called to serve sacrificially. Every penny I make is not to be spent on myself. All of my time and talents are not for my own pleasure. But neither are they all to be given away and not meet the needs of those who depend on me. If I deplete myself on other tasks and obligations, and am not aware of my own emotional and physical exhaustion, how can I then look out for others’ interests?

Short answer: I can’t!

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Time after time, I have encouraged parents of young children to take time to refresh themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have exhorted them to trade off on childcare and household chores, and if one parent is at home, have made the point that the stay-at-home parent is not the other’s personal servant. [Translation: pick up your own dirty clothes, do loads of laundry, wash dishes, take the kids and care for them. Because you both have “evening shift” responsibilities when the “day shift” is done!]

Yet I find myself, an empty nester, worn out and hard-pressed to respond to the things I need to do for my own health. Simple things like creating things with my hands, reading, baking, or enjoying nature. It didn’t help that we’ve had heavy rains all week so I couldn’t really get outside. But I wasn’t cultivating anything on the inside.

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Why was I stuck in some self-destructive patterns? I asked myself some hard questions, and maybe they will be helpful for you:

  • what am I doing that is not really my responsibility to do?
  • who am I trying to please (besides God?)
  • who is draining my spirits rather than building them back up?
  • where am I spending my time that is not the best use of my God-given gifts?
  • what activities would help renew my love and compassion for others?
  • what excuses am I giving to avoid tasks I need to do?

It’s a process. It’s an ongoing challenge to balance my desire to be God’s person vs pleasing all people. It’s allowing God to work within my brokenness, rather than going to pieces trying to fix it all myself. And it’s recognizing when I am beyond my threshold and need to simply… rest.

Serve God? Serve others?

Absolutely!! But only within the limits of my own brokenness. Let’s repeat that phrase one more time:

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

image: Serve within the limits of your brokenness
image (c) Rev. Deb Vaughn; may use with permission

Before the wind hits

I enjoyed the frailty of the blossoms with the sturdiness of the trunk and branches. For a few, brief days, we are blessed with this display of beauty.

We always wish the blossoms would last longer. They are a brief, shining, stunning moment that fades all too quickly.

Enjoy the last bits of loveliness before the wind hits… and ponder, if you will, how much of what we call “life” is far too quick to fade before our eyes.

 

You say Goodbye… I say Hello


Almost three years ago, I walked into this office. Friday afternoon, I put the last paperclip, pen, and stapler into office relocation bins. I was a little teary, and it surprised me.

I scolded myself. “Really. This is no big deal.” And yet, it is.

The office movers arrive on Saturday, and on Monday morning, I’ll walk into a new building and new office suite. Everything will be different, from where we find coffee to what our building security access cards look like.

I’m mentally prepared for the chaos of an inter-office move. (I’m planning on chaos, anyway. It means that anything less than that will be encouraging.) I know I won’t have a desk or even a shared workstation to call my own and will be “homeless.” It’s a bit disconcerting. I am not looking forward to it. (Yes – there will be places I can sit down with my laptop… but it’s not the same.) My expectation is that it will take a lot of patience and adjusting to find this “new normal.”

I’ve thought a lot about our expectations in life, generally speaking. Sometimes they are motivating. Sometimes they are devastating to our morale. And sometimes, things go far better than we could dream! With my hospice patients and families, we often reflect on “the new normal” and the “chaos” of enrolling someone in hospice. It takes a while to get your sea legs again!

I’ve spent many hours helping people manage their expectations for their family member’s illnesses. Over and over, I will say, “we just don’t know how long…” And to the extent I can, I try to help folks find appreciation in the moments they have now on the road of loss and change…

Yep. A life lesson. Hits pretty close right now…

Wherever I travel next, I want to pack light and walk gently… and enjoy the gifts of today. And I’ll pay attention to the memories and feelings that they evoke.

Frederick Buechner said, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.”

Yes. Yes indeed. These teary moments have great meaning.

Bad to the Core

20140714-151825-55105828.jpgI had a favorite pair of brown pumps. They were that lovely versatile kind of shoe that every female chaplain loves: they have good arch support for all those hours on your feet, they don’t need a lot of polishing, and they had a high enough heel to look dressy, but low enough that I didn’t kill myself walking in them. I could run and catch an elevator in them, or stand behind the pulpit in confidence.

And today, they died.

I took them to the repair shop not long ago and had them re-do the heels. The shoemaker looked them over and shook his head, “I will try,” he said, “but they have no core left. The heel will come off.” To me, it was worth trying to salvage them, so I paid the fee (a whole $5!) to get them fixed.

Today, the heel came off of one shoe, leaving the core and the lovely new heel pad on the cement. I was catching a train to downtown, so I sucked it up. I limped my way around the Metro, met up with a fellow chaplain, and limped home. The shoes were tossed in the trash on my way in the door. I knew better than to go back to the shoe shop. He was right… They had no core. They had no way to support the wear and tear of walking (or running) and the stress made them come apart under my feet.

The shoes looked lovely on the shelf. They had worn well for the time I had them, with very little in the way of scuff marks or wearing. But there was nothing internal to help them deal with the pressures of the external.

It seemed to me, as I sadly pitched my shoes, that it was a great metaphor for life, for coping, for dealing with all those unexpected crises that could trip you up. Without a “core” to bear the pressure and the stress, we fall apart. Is it any wonder that I limp so much?

I’m going to keep remembering to put my hopes on the One who hears, holds, and empowers me.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

It’s officially spring…

Time for the first colors of spring… and my first pedicure in a long, LONG time. (I know that thrills you.) However, I decided that when we can afford it, I am going to exercise what we RevGals call a little “self care” and get the toesies done.

The color is Midnight Plum.  That’s in case you cared.